Water Sports

Rainbow River Drift Dive, Florida. – Diver Trek

K.P.Hole County Park, Rainbow River, Florida.K.P.Hole County Park, Rainbow River, Florida. The docks and staging area. Inviting crystal clear water, as flat as glass.January 3, 2015.
Looking for a fun and relaxing dive with plenty of bottom time? And everyone, divers or not, can join you? Then the Rainbow River drift dive, near Dunnellon, is the answer. And when your finished, you’ll want to do it all over again!

Rainbow River drift dive, Florida.Heading upriver to the drop off point.

The launching point for this dive is at K.P.Hole County Park, about a half-hour drive from Crystal River. I hired a local guide, Larry, through Capt. Don of Air Tank Divers (from the Homosassa Manatee tour) so I wouldn’t miss anything. The typical drop off point is about a mile upstream, in the clearest waters, near the Rainbow Springs which fill the river with millions of gallons of crystalline water every day. From there the river meanders out to the Gulf about 6 miles away. Along the way to the drop off, the water taxi captain will give you lots of hints and “look-fors”.

snorkeling the Rainbow river, florida .My father-in-law snorkeled the drift.

The first thing that will strike you when you hit the water is the clarity, with visibility to 100′, and the intense aquamarine colour. The current gently pushes you along, giving you the sensation that I love of flying under zero g. As you drift along the bottom topography varies considerably. You’ll pass over sandy patches, rock and reddish-orange coloured pebble bottoms, expanses of limestone that look like it was poured concrete, and fields of river grass gently waving in the current.

sand boils, Rainbow river Florida.“Sand boils”, where spring water percolates up through the sand.

If you look closely at the bottom you’ll see numerous “sand boils”, where spring water bubbles up in the sand through the limestone substrate. We took our time and poked around the bottom looking for shark’s teeth and other fossils. To remove fossils (other than shark’s teeth) you will need a $5 dollar state license, which Larry had. Occasionally, artifacts such as arrow heads are found here, as this area has been inhabited for thousands of years, but it is illegal to remove these (State Park Property).

Rainbow river drift dive, florida.Cindy and Larry “poke-around” the bottom.Fossil shark's tooth from Rainbow river.Larry found this Fossil shark’s tooth. Unusual in that it has some colour.

The depth also varies considerably from 4 or 5′ to a maximum depth of 21′ in a huge bowl-like depression. But my dive computer showed an average depth of only 10′, which gave us a very long dive of 75 minutes. The water temp was a constant 73 deg.F.

There’s an abundance of life in the river to see as well. The most common fish were schools of Bluegills, that seem accustomed to divers, and several types of Bass. But there were many more species of fish than I could identify. This river is known for its Alligator Garfish, that I came to photograph, but they must have remained camouflaged in the grass as I didn’t find any. I also saw what looked like Painted turtles, and Larry pointed out my first Musk turtle. Sadly, since the river is dammed, there’s no Manatees anymore (or Bull sharks, for the extreme divers!). And before you ask, I didn’t see any alligators either (but occasionally, small ones are spotted, but they want nothing to do with you).

Bluegills in Rainbow River, Florida.Larry cracked open a clam for the bluegills. Here’s one taking away the catch.Blue gills in Rainbow river, Florida.Is there any left?Rainbow River drift dive, florida.One of the markers. The only log and stone combination-it points the way forward. It was about 10 minutes to the cave.The cave, a spring vent, Rainbow river, FloridaThe “cave”- a large spring vent. You can see Larry crawling in.

Toward the end of the dive you will come to the “cave”, which is a large spring vent. You can safely crawl inside the cave, it only goes a few meters back. But you’ll have to hold on, the water really gushes out!

The cave, at Rainbow River, Florida.Larry inside the “cave”. The vent is on the floor at the diver’s left.The cave, at Rainbow river, Florida.View looking out from the cave.

About 10 mins later, the water gets progressively shallower, over beds of river grass, which signals the end of your dive, and your back at the park before you know it. Over an hour dive, and it seemed like only minutes had passed.

Bass in Rainbow River, Florida.Dive’s over. You’ll see lots of fish in the grasses, such as this Bass, and hopefully some Garfish.

Tips:

K.P.Hole Park, Florida.Staging area and dock. Arrive early to avoid the crowds.

K.P Hole County park has a $5 dollar admission fee. You will get a waterproof wristband that is good for the whole day’s admittance, so you can wear it under your wetsuit. Arrive early (open 8am to 5pm in winter), as it gets very busy toward late morning. You can drop off your gear near the dock, but you will have to park in the lot at the entrance to the main gate, only a few minutes walk away. Once the parking lot is full, you will have to get shuttled in from town. The facilities are clean, modern, and well maintained, with change rooms, showers, pavillion area and a snack bar. Disposable items (eg. wrappers, disposable plastic water bottles) are not permitted in the park.
The nearest air fill station is at Crystal River. We rented two Aluminum 80’s for $21 U.S. (with fill) from Plantation Divers (at the dock for the Manatee tour). They were nice and let us have the tanks in the late afternoon the day before the dive. Note that you’ll have to leave a piece of ID behind. The Rainbow River Water taxi carries several Diver Down Flags for rent if you don’t have one.

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WaterSports
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